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Southern Pare Mountains – a letter

There are no hotels or lodges in the Southern Pare. It is difficult to reach this part of Tanzania – that is, it’s difficult for a tourist. This area does not cater for Westerners, and this for me was the attraction. I had been on a Serengeti safari, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and even travelled to Zanzibar. All this was a fantastic adventure, but I was in Africa and wanted to experience as much of Tanzania as I could. It was time to visit somewhere where there were no tourists, somewhere I would experience the real culture of Africa.

My chance came. Unfortunately it was under tragic circumstances that I finally got to visit the Pare Mountains. I was living in Arusha for a short time and had been befriended by a young couple along with their eight-year-old son, William. One day William was bitten by a dog. We thought the dog free of rabies. It was not, and William died very quickly. His parents asked me to accompany them to the funeral; William would not be buried in the town but taken “home” to the Pare Mountains.

We left on a couple of battered 25-seater buses, especially hired for this trip. We left in the evening at 22:00. About thirty of us squeezed onto each bus. We raced through the darkness, out of Arusha, then through Moshi town and after passing Kilimanjaro, we then turned south toward the Pare. After about four hours of travel, we turned into a very small town named Somé. Here we left the tarmac and travelled for another hour, maybe two, along dusty dirt roads.

Eventually we arrived at the base of the mountains. It was still dark and therefore impossible to negotiate the narrow rocky roads up the side of the mountain. We parked in a one-street town. It was so quiet. As we stretched our legs, our voices echoed and ricocheted about the place and we woke the locals. A few shops opened to sell toothbrushes and hot tea and we brushed our teeth out in the open, then, sitting on the stone steps of the old buildings, drank black sweet tea and waited for the light of morning.

At 06:30 we were off again – this time a steep ascent, up and up and up. The mountains were breathtaking. Rolling into the distance, trees and birds and water everywhere.

We took a further 90 minutes to get to the home where we were to bury William. Everything was terraced, and we sat outside the small house under a tree. The whole community had come for the burial. The views were stunning and the people warm and welcoming.

This trip was full of sadness and regret about the young boy, all of us feeling we had not done enough to save him. After burying William, we raced back to Arusha town, leaving the parents in their village home to mourn their only child.

I plan to return to the Pare Mountains to explore for myself; to take some time and to drink in Africa – away from tourists and phoney or over-organized cultural visits. I have learnt it is not so difficult to see these wonderful places, to truly experience that destination “off the beaten track” – often boasted about but rarely delivered.

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